A Canadian judge has granted Omar Khadr bail, offering the former Guantanamo Bay detainee his first taste of freedom after more than 12 years in custody.
Alberta Justice June Ross released her verdict Friday, a month after Khadr appeared in an Edmonton court appealing for bail while his Guantanamo conviction is being challenged in a Washington court.
“This is a circumstance where balancing a strong appeal and the public confidence in the administration of justice favour the same result,” she wrote.
Khadr’s Edmonton lawyers said Friday they were delighted by the news. “Omar is fortunate to be back in Canada where we have real courts and real laws,” Nathan Whitling said.
Added lawyer Dennis Edney about Khadr’s bail, “it has been a long time coming.”
Routine bail applications are often one-day hearings, but Khadr’s case was a legal first, as Ross had to decide whether she had the jurisdiction to grant bail when his appeal is in the U.S., not Canada.
The federal government had argued Khadr’s release would jeopardize Canada’s diplomatic relationship with the United States, but did not present evidence that Khadr posed a danger to the public if he were granted supervised release.
A hearing will be held May 5 to determine the conditions of Khadr’s bail.
There was no immediate comment from Canada’s Public Safety Minister but the government may appeal the ruling and could argue before the courts that Khadr must stay in custody until the appeal is decided.
His longtime Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, along with his wife Patricia, has offered to have Khadr live with them and provide whatever community supervision he may require.
A large community group in Edmonton — from imams and medical professionals, to professors at a Christian university where Khadr has been offered admission — has rallied around the 28-year-old.
Khadr is currently held at Bowden Institute, in Innisfail, Alta. and has spent nearly half his life in custody. He was shot and captured in 2002, at the age of 15, during a firefight with American and Afghan soldiers. During the battle, U.S. Delta Forces soldier Christopher Speer was fatally wounded with a grenade.
The Pentagon charged Khadr with five offences under the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which were written years after Khadr’s alleged crimes.
Khadr’s U.S. lawyer is arguing that the Pentagon should not have retroactively prosecuted Khadr since killing a soldier in conflict was not a war crime until the Bush administration rewrote the laws of war after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
In 2010, Khadr confessed to throwing the grenade that killed Speer as part of a Pentagon plea deal that allowed him to return to Canada to serve the remainder of his eight-year sentence. He later said he could not remember the firefight and only pleaded guilty because he felt it was his “only hope” to get out of Guantanamo.